The mother of a disabled woman who died as a result of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings stood outside its headquarters in Whitehall this week to remind civil servants and ministers how their actions caused her daughter’s death.
Joy Dove, whose daughter Jodey Whiting died in 2017, was taking part in an action being staged by disabled artist-activist Dolly Sen in front of Caxton House.
She and others held up heart-shaped boards, on which Sen had written the names of four disabled men and women who had lost their lives because of DWP’s benefit assessment regimes: Jodey Whiting, Stephen Carré, Mark Wood and Susan Roberts.
Other hearts showed the phrases “broken hearts for the DWP” and “hearts stopped by DWP policies”.
The action aimed to highlight how DWP policies have caused thousands of “broken hearts”.
Sen (pictured, left) said: “Joy is here to mourn that her daughter has passed because of this building behind us.
“We want these hearts to be still beating. The more hearts that are stopped by the building behind us, the stronger our hearts will get.
“We will fight for every person who is let down by the building behind us.”
As DWP staff entered and left the building, Sen asked each of them if they would personally sign off the next death to be caused by DWP.
Every DWP civil servant she asked ignored her question.
Sen said: “The workers who are going in and out may not have physically killed somebody, but they are the cogs in a system that is churning out coffin after coffin after coffin.”
She added, addressing staff in the building behind her: “Do you understand that hearts have stopped because of what you’re doing? Shame on you.”
This week’s action is one of several being devised by Sen that will be edited into a film, to be shown at film and art festivals, schools and universities, while there will also be “guerrilla projections” of the film onto bus stops and the walls of buildings, including – possibly –Caxton House itself.
Sen said afterwards: “We want more people to know what’s going on.”
She added: “It was a symbolic protest: a heart that goes de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, and it just stops because of this building.
“To me it is just a horrific and really painful thought. If you took this building out of the chain of decisions, people would still be alive.”
She said she had not expected DWP staff to engage with the protest.
She said: “How could they really justify what they are doing? The machine can’t work without the cogs and these people are the cogs.”
Joy Dove (pictured, second from left), who travelled from her home in the north-east to take part in the action, said afterwards that she had wanted DWP to know that she was there.
Dove, who was supported by her son Jamie, Jodey’s brother, thanked Sen and her producer, disabled artist Caroline Cardus, for asking her to take part.
She said: “When I saw the heart I wanted to cry, but I had to be strong for Jodey.”
She said it had been her first visit to London since 1983. “It was a big step but I’m glad I have done it. I will carry on as long as I can.
“I knew from the start that what they did to Jodey was wrong. The day they said she was fit for work I knew it wasn’t right.”
Her daughter died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.
The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.
Dove said she was still pursuing legal action through her solicitor, with the hope of a second inquest into her daughter’s death, while she continued to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition* and its call for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP.
She said: “I want justice for Jodey. I won’t give up.”
Dove was joined at the protest by Gill Thompson, whose brother, David Clapson, died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.
Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food.
His sister told the protest: “I just want all the suffering to stop. No more deaths and no more benefit cuts.”
Another disabled artist-activist, Julie McNamara, said the action and other protests were “gentle steps… towards having our voices heard. Remember there is still hope.”
She said: “People in a room together created this system. We intend to dismantle this system.
“It was people who created the system and it will be people who dismantle it.”
Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “We are here to mourn every human being affected by welfare reform.
“We mourn every name. [Each of them] is a person with a story.”
Peters asked supporters of the protest and passers-by to sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s failings, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to police.
It also calls on MPs to brand DWP institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for the department to take urgent steps to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority.
Peters said that all disabled people should see what was happening at the action and “live in hope” because the “resistance” to the welfare reforms of successive Conservative-led governments was “very much still here”.
And she promised those who have lost loved ones that “the quest for justice will never stop”.
*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee